The Finance Tech Stack: Buyer Personas (Part III)

By: Medha Agarwal and Urvashi Barooah

At Redpoint Ventures, we have been evaluating the finance tech stack for the last few years. We believe that finance tools will be re-imagined — and the time is now for this evolution. Based on our conversations with operators, we outlined the biggest pain points for CFOs and opportunities for innovation within the finance tech stack. One point that is clear to us from speaking with CFOs is that there is no “one size fits all” tech stack that works across all companies — meaning startups aspiring to win in this category need to have a clear perspective on who their target buyer is and what their needs are.

For example, a private company with less than 10 employees and a 1 person or outsourced finance team will have vastly different needs from a publicly traded company with a 20-person finance team and hundreds of employees. More importantly, the existing tech stacks of these companies — and therefore the integrations needed — will be different. Take accounting software: A large enterprise will likely be on Oracle or SAP, whereas a mid-market company might choose Netsuite, while a small startup may use Quickbooks. This means companies targeting these segments have to build the software integrations most appropriate for that segment. The size of the target customer will also impact sales and go-to-market strategy. For instance, companies going after small startups need to have lightweight implementations and self-service models to reduce the barriers to adoption, while those going after large enterprises need to be able to offer ample training and implementation support to accommodate the custom needs arising from the complexities of the existing architecture.

At Redpoint we have found it most useful to think of the various customer segments in terms of the company’s size and maturity. Although the specifics of each sector may vary, company size (# of employees) and revenue tend to be good proxies for the level of complexity of a company’s finance processes, and therefore their key priorities when buying financial software. Based on our conversations with finance operators from companies of various sizes, we have outlined three buyer personas and their decision criteria when buying financial software.

Stage: <50 employees, <$10M in revenue

Finance team composition: Typically 0 (outsourced) to 5 employees. Although it can vary, on average we find that startups will hire their first full time finance person (typically CFO of VP of Finance) at the Series A or B stage. Before that, most companies will use a part-time CFO or accounting firm to help the leadership team track finances.

Buying process: The key decision maker is usually the CEO in conjunction with the COO or VP of Finance (if such a position is filled). The buying process tends to be rather short and unstructured as their needs are relatively simple. Most CFOs will default to software they know from prior jobs or solutions recommended by their peers or outsourced accounting provider.

Budget for finance tools: $1–5K per month

Typical integrations:

  • Accounting: Quickbooks
  • Payroll: Paychex, Gusto, Rippling
  • FP&A: Excel, GSheets
  • Billing: Zuora, Stripe, Chargebee
  • AP: Bill.com
  • CRM: Hubspot

Key priorities:

  • Simplicity and ease of use: Because companies at this stage tend to be particularly resource-constrained, simplicity and ease of use are paramount. Often, the CFO or VP of Finance is the only person performing finance-related tasks so automation is critical in creating efficiency. Because there are no technical analysts on the team yet, software for this segment has to be user-friendly and intuitive for non-technical users. For instance, FP&A software should have easily programmable interfaces for tracking key metrics like CAC/LTV, ARR, cash runway and simple visualizations that can be easily exported for board meetings.
  • Price: Companies at this stage tend to be relatively price sensitive. More than any other segment, they are reluctant to spend on tools that are ‘nice to have.’ They tend to think of willingness to pay in relation to cost savings from eliminating the need for additional resources.
  • Ease of implementation: A lightweight implementation with easy API integrations is crucial for lowering barriers to adoption. Given how lean teams at this stage are, they cannot afford to spend several weeks learning a new tool. Companies should have pre-built templates and intuitive self-serve models to minimize the time to value. One example of a company that does this well is Onplan — because its FP&A solution builds on top of Excel, customers can seamlessly transition their existing models onto the platform and have a functioning solution within 1–2 days. Although not necessary, personalized customer support also goes a long way with this segment as their internal teams tend to be relatively lean.

Stage: 50–500 employees, $10–100M in revenue

Finance team composition: Can range up to 15 employees. On the larger end, companies will have a full-fledged finance team with individual teams responsible for accounting and budgeting/forecasting. At this point, they are beginning to make significant investments in software/automation, including moving to a cloud ERP to ensure financials are being accurately tracked.

Buying process: The key decision maker is usually the CFO, with input from the functional lead (e.g. Controller or Director of FP&A) and sign-off from the CEO. Companies will employ a formal RFP process for most purchases, considering at least 2–3 options before making a decision. Especially for high-growth companies, CFOs are thoughtful about investing in software that will set them up for the future, versus selecting what is good enough for today. At the same time, there is inertia as companies of this size have developed habits and workarounds to bridge the shortcomings in their existing tech stack, so unless the alternative is substantially better or addressing a particularly acute pain point, they will not upgrade.

Budget for finance tools: $5–15K per month

Typical integrations:

  • Accounting: Netsuite, Sage Intacct
  • Payroll: Gusto, Rippling
  • FP&A: Excel, GSheets, Adaptive Insights, Planful
  • Billing: Zuora, Stripe
  • AP: Coupa, Avid Xchange
  • Spend management: Divvy, Airbase, Expensify
  • CRM: Salesforce

Key priorities:

  • Collaboration: While collaboration is important at every stage (especially in today’s environment!), it begins to really matter once companies grow to this size.Finance users want to have the ability to easily loop in non-Finance personnel on various processes, so software should have workflows to accommodate permissions (e.g., granting “read” access to certain users) and collaboration (e.g., provide model inputs, track changes). As the size of the organization increases, processes like expense management and bill pay also get more complex, requiring input from multiple stakeholders. Bill pay companies for this segment have to build in workflows to seamlessly manage these processes (e.g., multiple layers of approvals), in addition to being able to handle large volumes of transactions.
  • Ability to scale: For fast growing companies, it’s important to select software that can scale with them. Many CFOs we spoke to at this stage described going for software that exceeded their current needs in anticipation of future growth. Because implementations can be long and switching is painful, companies are willing to stretch their budgets to pay for solutions that can handle scale.

Stage: >500 employees, >$100M in revenue

Finance team composition: Typically >15 employees. These finance teams tend to be sophisticated organizations with specialized teams organized into: Accounting/Controller, FP&A (often combined with Finance business partners who act as mini-CFOs for individual business units), Treasury, Tax and Audit. They may also have a shared service center to process high volume repetitive tasks such as T&E, AP/AR and payroll.

Buying process: Key decision makers are heads of individual finance departments in conjunction with CFO and IT. These companies tend to have RFP processes which can stretch to multiple months. The largest companies often rely on consultants to guide them through the software selection and implementation process. Depending on the solution, implementation can take anywhere from 2 to 10 months and cost as much as $10M given the complexity of their architecture. Because switching costs are so high, these companies tend to be reluctant to buy from unproven companies, often looking for references from peer organizations before buying.

Budget for finance tools: >$15K per month

Typical integrations:

  • Accounting: SAP, Oracle, Workday, Netsuite
  • Payroll: ADP, Workday
  • FP&A: IBM, Oracle Hyperion, SAP, Anaplan, Excel
  • Billing: Zuora, Stripe
  • AP: Avid Xchange
  • Spend management: Expensify, Concur
  • Treasury: Quantum, Integrity SAP, Excel
  • CRM: Salesforce

Key priorities:

  • Collaboration: See above.
  • Flexibility/customizability: Because large enterprises have complex and specialized needs, flexibility is key. For instance, their FP&A system needs to be flexible enough to accommodate changes to costing and reporting hierarchies, allow users to slice and dice data and conduct sophisticated scenario analyses. Their accounting systems need to track records and books in multiple formats to enable reporting for different purposes. At the same time, the interface should be intuitive enough for non-technical business users to follow.
  • End-to-end functionality: In general, we found that these companies prefer end to end, fully featured solutions over best of breed, point solutions. Companies like Oracle or SAP win versus other less fully featured products because they eliminate the need for home-grown solutions to fill gaps, and reduce the number of complex integrations needed.

Most startups building solutions in this space tend to start with small and medium enterprises, and aim to move upmarket as they scale. Occasionally there are companies that manage to break into enterprise right away but this tends to be an exception rather than the rule: companies that solve a particularly acute pain point, don’t require too many integrations to the existing stack, or have amazing channel partners may be able to break through the noise for enterprise customers.

At Redpoint, we believe the small and medium enterprise segment is where the biggest gaps in the market exist today. We are optimistic that big companies will be built that focus just on small and medium enterprises — a large but underserved market with shorter sales cycles. If you are building a company that sells to the CFO’s office, we’d love to hear from you!

Originally published at https://medium.com on December 10, 2020.

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Medha Agarwal

Currently @RedpointVC. Former founder, ops, and consultant. Proud @HarvardHBS @Harvard @Radlwtcrew @Bainalerts alum. Recovering New Yorker, currently loving SF